In Conversation with Artist-In-Residence, Rick Valicenti
Before Rick Valicenti’s exhibition, (maybe) This Time, opened at the Ralph Arnold Gallery, Fine Arts Marketing Associate, President of Loyola Art History Club, and senior Art History major, Alexandra Senycia sat down with Loyola’s new Artist-in-Residence to discuss the show, his work with student designers, and his upcoming collaboration with Loyola Fine Arts seniors on gun violence in Spring 2017.
AS: What is the desired impact of your new show, (maybe) This Time? It looks like a politically charged exhibition.
RV: It looks like it is, isn’t it? I spent some time at Loyola, and it really underscored for me the presence of a social justice agenda on campus, in the pedagogy, in the curriculum. At that point, I realized my in work, while that’s not the primary focus of it, I use design in artful ways. I use the medium of the designer, the tools of the designer, and the skills of the designer to make artful commentary on the things that are going on.
I want to show the students that they could use these tools that they’re learning in their visual communications classes for something more than just selling a product. They can take that focus as a designer away from the commerce and towards the citizen or the role of being a citizen. The role of being a citizen, as stated in the Constitution, is that we have the right to free speech, and in that right of free speech, we can speak truth to power.
AS: It is definitely a good thing for students to see that what they are creating is more than aesthetic beauty or a piece of advertising. Design is something that can make a difference. It’s something that can be expressive and meaningful.
RV: That’s right. And if nothing else, (maybe) This Time can at least inspire confrontation. I want to inspire more discourse and more conversation around difficult issues. Right now we see a lot of issues, and the designs that accompany them—whether the design is a graphic in the lower half of a TV screen or an infographic we see in the newspaper—all of those means of conversation, for me at least, are numbing. I see so many of them that I just disconnect from them. I think it’s the ubiquity, the redundancy, and the lack of new form to express current issues. It leaves the audience with no more impact. It’s the responsibility of the designer or the creative person who is dealing with the same content and is inspired by the same issues to find form and context for that form that can inspire new conversation or at least awaken those who are not in a conversation to maybe consider a point of view.
This is what I want to show the students that I’m going to work with in January when we deal with issues about gun violence. I don’t invite them to do work that looks just like what I’m presenting in this gallery. Instead, I am inviting them to consider alternative means of expression, production, imagination, whatever those steps are in a designer’s process to get to find new, compelling ways to make their statement.
To awaken the audience and to make them want to join the conversation, that’s a challenge, that’s a design challenge of the 21st century. And I believe the designer has yet to be really called to task.
In (maybe) This Time, I did a mash-up of things that you would never put together. You’ll ask yourself, “Why are those two things next to each other?” It’s kind of crazy, but I did it with the hope that I could inspire students.
AS: How does your gallery exhibit relate to your project on gun violence that you’re doing with students in the spring?
RV: In the simplest terms, one should recognize that none of the objects that I’m putting in the gallery show have anything to do with gun violence. The second thing is that I’m not inviting students to do work like me. I’m just saying that this is an example of some of the objects I’ve made that deal with these issues. But none of these pieces are initiatives that are dedicated to changing public opinion or public policy. They are unexpected visual commentary from a personal point of view.
I would ask the students, “If we added the extra objective, which is what if we really could change public point of view or discourse, how would we do it creatively?”
We also need to keep in mind the context that the work is appearing in. (maybe) This Time is appearing in a gallery, which requires a certain presentation of work and a certain kind of manufacturing of work. I don’t expect the work I do with the students to have gallery as the end game. I can see alley as the destination. I can see store window. All of those things require different materials and different installation techniques.
AS: What can you tell me about your past work with student designers?
RV: I’ve worked student designers at universities, but I’ve never worked with them for only a semester like I am at Loyola. I’ve done an initiative that lasted three years with students graduating each year—since it lasted over three years—but I was able to work with twenty seniors for a whole year. That was dealing with the issues of fresh air, or lack thereof.
AS: When you’re dealing with these big issues of society and politics, how do your personal beliefs affect your work with students?
RV: I try not to impose my politics on them because that is unfair. It’s not for me to tell them what they need to say. It’s for me to shepherd their point of view onto the best platform in the best form.
AS: Why do you choose to work with student designers?
RV: There’s a great deal of joy. To be so close to the next generation of designers, I’m aware that each of those people in their career path is going to create a gazillion impressions, and I want them to understand the power and potential in that responsibility. They should know that there are just three kinds of message throughout their whole life that they’re going to design around. And those are messages of value. The first kind of value is personal and would be different for each person. The second kind will be something like, “On sale today…” That’s a message of value. Or, “The best car you’ll ever drive.” Then there’s the message of no value. I’m inviting designers to go through their career saying they should only do two of those three. It’s their responsibility to know what a message of value looks like and sounds like.
I want designers to be fine citizens. The success in this creative, immersive workshop has little to do with whether they make something powerful, but if they begin to feel like they are moving outside their own comfort zones into new creative territory, they will never forget what that felt like. If they recall that later in life, they will go there again.
Not everyone is trained to create and distribute messages the way designers are. Every experience people have can be traced back to design. Even if it’s reading the Bible. Someone had to create that typeset and illuminate those letters. Every piece of information you see on television, every text message you get on your iPhone, every theatre poster, and every menu you read is graphic design.
AS: Often people don’t realize that those examples are design because the medium is ephemeral—posters, menus, paper. It’s something people see or use in a specific moment and then don’t see again.
RV: The objective is to make those impressions more indelible and soul-stirring. When that happens and when the people who control those messages know how to shape and distribute them, the designs can be smarter, more impactful, and even healing when it’s necessary. Those are important things for us to be sensitive to in this upcoming workshop on gun violence. I don’t want it to just be about shock and awe because we don’t need too much more of that. We’ve just been through months of shock and awe.
(maybe) This Time runs through November 26 at the Ralph Arnold Gallery. For more information about the exhibition, please click here.
Rick Valicenti would like to express his gratitude to Dean Thomas Regan, to Chair of the Fine Arts Department, Sarah Gabel, and to Nicole Ferentz for their trust and interest in this creative activity.